Book Review: The War God's Men
Jim Cobb reviews David Ross Erickson's historical fiction title based around the First Punic War.
David Ross Erickson has made a name as a game designer (Combat Command, et. al) and as the editor of Wargamer Monthly. He has now turned his hand to historical fiction with The War God’s Men, available for the Kindle at $2.99 (ASIN: B004QT6ZUU). Like his other work, Erickson’s book is informative, interesting, accessible and entertaining.
Fantastic Facts, Fun Fiction
The book concerns itself with the First Punic War,
specifically the operations in and around
Erickson handles the recorded events well. The scarcity of
detailed sources makes him interpolate such disparate authors as Polybius and
Adam Goldsworthy but the battle scenes are a nice mixture of accuracy and
action. The three naval clashes yield descriptions of ships and tactics. The
difference between triremes, quinqueremes and septeremes is the number of men
on each oar, a fact that gave the Carthaginians a huge early advantage with
their trained crews. The three naval battles show how this advantage slipped
Land warfare is handled equally well. Naturally, the superiority of the Roman maniple system over the phalanx is obvious but is described better than in other, drier, sources. An interesting detail is that the Roman pila were much heavier than regular javelins, making shields and armor almost useless. The discipline and organization of the Roman army eased officers’ tasks when compared to the polyglot nature of their enemy with Iberians, Numidians and Celts. Insights into the cultures represented in the Carthaginian army add yet further understanding of tactics. The Romans did have a downside; their cavalry was horrible. Made up of glory-hungry young nobles, Roman horsemen were easy prey to the ambush tactics of Iberian and Numidian light cavalry. Victory depended on the stolid Roman infantryman.
Four pitched battles, a long siege and two ambushes are used to bring out the aspects of ground warfare. The siege is interesting because it shows the stresses on both sides and the interplay of the respective commanders. Along with this, a rare glimpse of Punic government is shown. The main body is the One Hundred which ordered the crucifixion of defeated commanders, meddled in operational affairs and played favorites. The Roman Senate, on the other hand, tended to give consuls a free hand until their terms were up.
No Bodice Ripper Here
Characters are not developed as in most novels. No
psych-babble is employed and only one woman makes a three-sentence appearance.
These characters are manly men, driven by duty, glory and competition. Historical
characters such as Hannibal Gisgo, father of the Second Punic War’s Hannibal
Barca, and his rival Hanno are portrayed. Hanno seems to be a bit of a fool
One exception to this hands-off style of character
development is the Numidian light cavalryman,
In this 450-page opus, Erickson does take a few liberties with history but, unlike most authors, he explains them all in a long historical note. The only omission worth noting is the lack of a map, although any reader even slightly familiar with the Sicilian Campaign of 1943 will figure matters out. The War God’s Men is a book that is both informative and exciting. Students of ancient history might quibble over details but will still enjoy it. General readers should be caught up in the storyline and may even want to learn more about the period.
Review written by: Jim Cobb, Staff Writer